Thursday, March 24, 2016

the arms race, continued: 12-speed cassettes

It's official: We now have 12-speed cassettes.

Thanks to SRAM, the purveyors of racer-wannabe culture and the folks who insist on curating your next riding experience, There is now a 12 x 1 drivetrain for mountain bikes.

Apparently, the folks at SRAM decided that managing two derailleurs has simply gotten too complicated. What's more, they've decided that climbing hills has gotten too hard, which is the only reason I can come up with for the existence of a 10-50 cassette paired with a 36t chainring. I could climb up and over a telephone booth with that gearing. (If I could still find a telephone booth, that is.)
Then, to get the most for their trouble they've priced it out of this world. The cassette alone retails for over $400.

Yeah, sit with that a minute.

Four hundred dollars. For a cassette.

From the photos, it looks like a very pretty cassette, but I'm not putting it in my ear lobe.

To justify that price, I'd have to hang it on a $5,000 frame. And of course someone's gonna have to come up with another exclusive chain tool like Campy did for its 11-speed chains. Because unless you spread the rear dropouts farther apart (Q-factor? What's that?), that chain is going to be pretty damned narrow and thin-walled and you BET it'll need a special tool of its own.


(Below) See this? It's what we used to do before cassettes came along.

Once upon a time, freewheels were all we had on bikes. They could be taken apart, overhauled, the bearings cleaned and re-greased; and worn cogs removed and replaced as needed. Suntour, Regina and other makers used to sell individual cogs for just this purpose. And as long as you could repair a freewheel, you could buy just the parts you needed and keep it going a lot longer.
Of course, that sort of frugality is bad for a company's bottom line.
AND -- American riders got bigger and heavier, which is part of why cassettes became such a good idea: cassette hubs are stronger because the weight is on the hub instead of just the axle.
AND -- racers wanted more gear selection because they didn't want to have to think about gear combinations, they just wanted to shift and keep on shifting ad infinitum.

So eventually freewheels gave way to cassettes, and today you can't find a decent freewheel easily.

If you're like me you scavenge for old freewheels wherever you can. Then you take them home, clean and re-grease them and put them away with a thin coating of light oil on them. And if you're lucky, you acquire enough to see you out. Which is what I've basically done.

Because honestly, this 12-speed thing is a crock, just another smokescreen designed to fool you into thinking your old parts aren't good enough anymore while lining the pockets of bicycle manufacturers who live and die by selling to pretend-racers because real racers alone won't keep their operations propped up and chugging along. This stopped being about real quality a long time ago. And it has stopped being about real innovation too. Bicycles with chain-based drive trains are a mature technology. Everything achievable now is mostly baby-steps that don't really mean anything in the real world. Real innovation would entail coming up with ways to make bike parts last longer and the industry as a whole become more sustainable. But I don't see that happening anytime soon. And it's a shame. Because it's just one more nail in the coffin of the false notion that the bike industry could possibly ever be "green". It's still a lie and it's a lie that's growing all the time.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. And seriously, recycling should be the lowest priority in that triad. Start by using things until they really wear out, then turning them into something else that can be used for another purpose. Then recycle the materials, and if possible buy new components made from that melted-down metal. It's not rocket science anymore. The bike industry has known how to do this for a long time and mostly refuses to. It's time to wake up and stop making throw-away technology.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

errandonnee 2016:11 & 12 -- coffee, drugs and a chance of extreme rain

I didn't ride yesterday, because I was working and had to dress nice (I was leading Shabbat services).
So today, when I heard that heavy rain would be followed by a major windstorm, I had two choices:

a. Ignore the dire warnings, because Portland weather forecasters habitually lose their collective minds over the slightest suggestion of danger. (Don't believe me? Come back next winter and see how they practically salivate at the mention of freezing rain on the valley floor. These people need to get a hobby. Or move back to Arizona.)

b. Consider that if the storm was real and would arrive by noon as advised, I had a window of time in which to run my last two errands before the deadline.

The rain was pouring. The wind was beginning to pick up. I opted to go out. Because I admit I also enjoy an occasional whiff of "danger" on my rides.

To make proper loop of it, I rode to the farthest point first: My local drugstore, where I had prescriptions to pick up. Because this is Portland, my drugstore allows bicyclists to use the drive-thru window.

While waiting for the window to open (I got there at three minutes to ten), I admired my rainwear choices: Thrown hastily over my sweats and sweater, I added knee-high rain boots, Rainlegs (demi-pants that are easy on, easy off, and ideal for quick trips) and my Burley rain jacket (twenty years old and still repelling water. Take that, Showers Pass; and damn you for stealing Burley's Touring jacket design and making it worse.)

After a lovely and very soggy ride through my neighborhood, I looped back to Ps & Qs for a quick cuppa joe. Hot, fresh, tasty -- and not nearly as foofily-priced as, ahem, that other coffee shop on Dekum. Because if there's anything I have learned from all this Coffeeneuring and Errandonneeing it's that $3.50 for a tall cup of house coffee is ridiculous. Especially when combined with surly wait-staff. Service at Ps & Qs can sometimes be slow (they tend to under-staff) but always cheerful and friendly.
Evidence of water. (Lousy picture but I am positively dripping as I snap this reflective selfie.)

Last shot: Another gorgeous tree in bloom as I head home. Spring is here, even if it's cold and wet. (Well, that's usually how spring is here. After forty-plus years I generally don't mind.)
Total distance: 3.6 miles
File under: Personal care, Coffee
Total distance ridden in 12 days: 38.6 miles
(**As I have no cyclometer on my bike, all distances checked with Portland Bike Map.)

What I learned:

1. Baskets. Totally. Rock. I don't know why I waited so long to put them back on my bikes. Add a small waterproof bag and you're all set for shopping, camping, what-have-you. (WALD makes a decent basket bag for those of you not living in the Pacific NW.)

2. I counted miles for the purposes of this little event, but really, I no longer care about how many miles I ride. It's about how much enjoy them simply by going outside and riding my bicycle.

3. Coffee is mostly what makes the world -- and commerce -- go around.

The wind is getting stronger and a little gustier as I type this, and in the southwest there is definitely a big, black cloudy front that I can see from my living room window. Oh yeah, this'll be fun.
Happy riding!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

errandonnee 7, 8, 9 &10: busy, busy, busy

A busy day of errandonneeing!
Today's errands included:

A haircut, though my barber did not allow me to take her picture;

Velo Cult, to duck out of the rain and enjoy a Ginger Brew:

Chrome Industries and a little loop around NW Portland:

(above: the bathroom at the Portland Chrome store. I learned that the interior of Chrome's bathroom does not at all match the aesthetic of the rest of the store. Below: The ZooBomb pile. Note that the tiny bike at the top of the pole is a match for the tiny bike at the top of the Sabin School covered bike awning)

After I came back over the east side of town, I made. my way to the New Seasons Market at Rosa Parks (shopping) and Revolver Bikes (borrowing) before heading home.

Total distance: 14.2 miles
File under: 7 - personal grooming
                  8 - weather evasion, refreshment
                  9 - shopping
                10 - borrowing (wild card?)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

the torah of bicycle repair: parashat pekudei

I don't often cross-post from my music blog, but since this includes both Torah and bicycles, I figured I could get away with it.

This week, Jews around the world will read the section of Torah in synagogue that we call Pekudei. It's the last section in the book of Exodus, which has been all about journeys. The world, and our journeys through it, leaves us feeling a little beat up at times. This is my attempt to make sense out of my ancestors' experience, and mine as well. If you click on the link below, it will take you to a little video I made about it.

Enjoy, and have a great week.

Monday, March 7, 2016

errandonnee 2016:5 & 6 -- coffee and groceries

After a productive morning and a lovely lunch with Sweetie,it was time to get some groceries at my local Safeway, roughly 1.4 miles from home. I also got a call to meet up with a friend at my local caffeine dealer cafe, so I combined trips.

Nothing to see at Safeway except a bunch of traffic all trying to get in and out of the parking lot. On the way home along a circuitous scenic route (to add tenths of miles), though, I saw a lovely dogwood blooming all-too-early (welcome, New Climate!) and had to stop and admire it.
 Finally, I parked at Ps and Qs and grabbed a cup of coffee while I chatted with my friend.

Nothing special, but a dry day that grew drier and sunnier by the afternoon.
Total distance (loop) 5.1 miles
File under: STORE & SOCIAL


Sunday, March 6, 2016

errandonnee 2016:4 -- sittin' here watchin' the wheels go 'round and 'round

This may not entirely qualify, but since I'm battling Crohn's-related fatigue and the batteries in my camera died, I'm calling it a Wild Card sort of ride.

What I did was I took the trailer (again with the trailer!) to the Community Cycling Center for their scrap day. Once a week for two hours, the bicycle non-profit opens its scrap cage to pickers like me and lets us sort through whatever junked bicycles are piled up in there. We can bring our own tools and help ourselves to anything we can lay our hands on, and when we're done they weigh up our piles and charge us by the pound.

It's very civilized and everyone is polite, even agreeing to tear down an old bike together so each of them can take whatever parts they need. Salvage Sundays are great. Today I took home a whole bike and some small parts, all of which I will find a use for.

Since my camera died, here's a stock photo of the scrap shed:

I loaded up my trailer with an entire bike and some extra parts, and rode it home. The weather was cool, but sunny, with fast-moving clouds. Rain was predicted. Happily, it held off long enough for me to not only unload and stow the trailer, but to mow the lawn as well -- the earliest in the year I've ever mowed our lawn, but it needed it.

Now, a few hours later, after a much-needed nap -- darned Crohn's is making me super-tired these days -- the rain has arrived, pounding against the roof and windows. I am indoors with a hot cup of tea, glad to have gone out and glad to have gotten home before the weather turned.

Total distance: 2.5 miles (just barely, according to the Portland Bicycle Map)
File under: WILD CARD

Saturday, March 5, 2016

errandonnee 2016:3 -- pootling around

The rain was supposed to arrive by lunchtime.

"If you're planning on a bike ride, do it soon," my Sweetie advised. So I got dressed and headed out.

I took the scenic route over to Rivelo to pay a social call to proprietor John Bennett. It was cool, but not cold; and by the time I'd gotten down to the Esplanade I was wearing a thin wool short-sleeved jersey and had stuff the flannel shirt in my basket.
The switchbacks down to the Esplanade (from the Rose Quarter Transit Center):

I rode from one end of the Esplanade to the other, and turned onto Water Avenue so I could ride over to Rivelo without having to deal with too much traffic.

John approved of my recent Carradice bag resurrection and we had a nice talk about bikes and music and stuff. The clouds were moving quickly but there was no sign of rain. Still, I'd promised Sweetie I'd stop at the store for dinner fixin's so I said goodbye and waited for the Light Rail.

While I waited, I watched a small group of folks clad in ponchos, safety orange vests and hats and other odd costumes push some shopping carts into a vacant lot on the other side of the tracks, where they set up an inflatable dummy and some speakers, and for about twenty minutes they stood around and drank beers and chatted while the Pogues blared from their mobile sound system. After a little while, they packed up and walked away. As they did,  I asked what they were doing. One of them yelled back, smiling, "We had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon."

I love this town.

The train arrived shortly after that, and I hopped a ride for me and my bike to Interstate Ave. and Rosa Parks, where I got off, grabbed the groceries at the market there, and rode the rest of the way. There was the barest hint of a sprinkle, a suggestion really, as I loaded up my basket and rode the short distance home.

I was grateful for the ability to go multi-modal part of the way. Since switching to a new medication for Crohn's disease I've struggled with fatigue on and off, and today at the end of the riding part I was feeling really tired. Still, it was very nice to get out and spin my legs doing basically not much at all.

Total distance: 9 miles
Total distance pedaled: 5.4 miles
File under: SOCIAL CALL

Friday, March 4, 2016

Errandonnee 2016:2 -- because i can

I hadn't planned on doing two errands with the trailer today, but since tomorrow is Shabbat and Parr Lumber is closed on Sunday and we needed cat litter now, I went out again after lunch.

A friend told us a few years ago that commercial cat litter, besides being expensive, is also environmentally nasty because it doesn't biodegrade quickly and often contains chemicals we'd rather not leach into the soil. Instead, he suggested we try wood pellets, kind often used in pellet stoves and made from the leftover trimmings of lumber production. They're 100 per cent biodegradable and a lot safer for the environment than most cat litters. They're also a lot cheaper; I can get a forty-pound bag for around five bucks at my local lumber yard. So every now and then, I take the trailer and head over to Parr, which is about a mile and a half from our place, and stock up. My old Burley trailer is rated up to about a hundred pounds, so I can easily haul two bags home.

It's pretty straightforward. Pull into the truck bay,  pay for what you need, then drive through to the other end and let one of the nice warehouse fellas load your order, and drive out. 
I've been buying my pellets here for long enough that they no longer bat an eye at the sight of my bike trailer; but when I first started shopping here the warehouse guys did a double-take. "Can your trailer hold that much?" they'd ask. 
Yup. No problem.


To make sure I rode at least 2.5 miles, I took the scenic route home, and on the way I came across this lovely specimen at curbside.

 Thankfully, we're all set for commodes at home so I left it for someone else.

Total distance: 2.8 miles.

Errandonnee 2016:1 -- Have guitar, will travel

I decided to take up The Errandonnee this year, because it's another excuse to ride my bike on colder days of early spring, and because the coordinator makes it funny and fun to do.

The plan is to ride 12 errands [by bicycle] in 12 days. I can bunch 'em up, or spread 'em out. I need to take pictures and share something I learned on each errand/ride.

Today I hauled my guitar to the home of a new student who lives in NE Portland, about two-and-a-half miles from me according to my Portland Bicycle Map.

I left with my guitar and a waterproof bag containing my sheet music. I LOVE having a big enough basket to toss a bag into and not worry about it!

Along the way, I stopped for coffee. Because, well, COFFEE. You know.

I passed Sabin School and noted with delight that in 2016, parents are beginning to encouarge their little ones to ride to school again.
(I love how the covered bike rack evokes a little bit of ZooBomb in its design.)

We had a great first lesson! My student was eager to try new things and learn as much music as she can. Bonus: I was able to lock up right in front of her house, with full view from her living room -- a really good thing in a city with such high bike-theft rates as Portland.

After the lesson, I rode back up and over Sabin Hill (basically, a dead mini-volcano), and -- here's what I learned -- the gear choices on my Bridgestone retro-build work well for hauling loads in a trailer, even up a fairly steep hill.

Below: Evidence of delight along the way.
Total distance, round trip: around five miles. (I don't use a cyclometer anymore so I look on a paper map and figure it out that way.) File under: WORK (1st of two)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

carradice redux: all done!

Finished repairing and restoring the Carradice Campe Long Flap bag I scored for a song.

All the photos of the entire process can be found HERE.

Here's a couple to whet your appetite. It's on my Bridgestone and we'll see how well it holds up.